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Should immigrants be required to assimilate?

Hundreds of immigrants crowd into the Granada Hills DMV to apply for driver's licenses on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
Hundreds of immigrants crowd into the Granada Hills DMV to apply for driver's licenses on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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Many would agree that the immigration system in America is far from ideal. 

But when it comes to deciding who should be allowed into the country and who shouldn't, things can get pretty complicated. 

So what are some ways to break the stalemate over immigration policy? And what should be required of those entering the country?

Take Two put that question to:

Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes, chair of the department of economics at San Diego State University, specializing in immigration policy  

Ben Boychuk, managing editor for the conservative website American Greatness and a regular columnist for the Sacramento Bee

Ben: I'll jump right into it. What's your biggest concern about our approach to immigration in the country?

My biggest concern isn't people streaming across the borders. I don't think that's exactly the problem that we have right now. My greatest concern is assimilation — what happens to folks once they do get here. 

That's one aspect of the immigration debate that isn't discussed a great deal, and it's beyond immigration policy; it's also a public education problem. I think it's something that we need to take much more seriously than we do right now. 

What specifically is not happening that you're worried about?

We have a really poor civic education in this country. I think people just don't understand the country that they're living in. We tend to focus more on the sins of the country, rather than the virtues. 

We're not educating our citizens about what the country is, and we're certainly not doing a very good job of educating immigrants in what country is. That leads to an assimilation problem. You have people who feel as if they're on the outside and that they have no reason to be part of the greater whole. I think that's a problem. 

Catalina: One of the key steps to assimilation for an immigrant is becoming a citizen. It seems like you hear the phrase "path to citizenship" a lot in these kinds of conversations. But what would that look like in practice?

There is not such a path to legalization for undocumented migrants. 

We have had smaller attempts, but the largest one was under The Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. One of the things discussed was a path to permanent residency for the 11 million undocumented migrants. And there are significant gains to allowing for that. 

Catalina: Looking at other countries: Canada and Australia accept immigrants based on needs of the workforce, how does it work and could it work here?

One of the components discussed in the Immigration Reform was increasing the quota for H1B visas. That could be more along the lines of those systems. 

They're point systems, so they typically choose immigrants according to their needs. They might have a tendency or a preference for individuals who are more skilled or highly educated or to satisfy needs in particular industries. They provide the test, and they look at your characteristics, and based on your characteristics they allow you entry or not. 

Press the blue play button above to hear the conversation in its entirety.